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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE
M/I. Post-BDM. The things we risk and the things we hide.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1794 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Something To Think Onby clioChapter Fifteen
Before Shadow, he hadn’t been a man much prone to rage. A body who knew the man he was now – a man who seemed to get angrier and angrier with each passing day – would have a hard time recognizing him in that fresh-faced young’un who’d passed his days cow-herding and listening to his momma’s jazzy Earth-That-Was tunes. Back in them days, he’d been free spirited and curious. He’d wanted to see the universe, so he’d gone off to do some schooling. Told the girl in the farm around the bend he was so keen on that he’d be back. But he wasn’t, for a long time. And then Shadow didn’t exist anymore.
“Mal, Alliance checkpoint coming up.” Jayne’s voice – over the wireless. (Though the ship was so small he could just about, from where he was in the galley kitchen – drinking her stupid tea, didn’t know why’d he’d brought it along – hear the merc’s voice carrying from the bridge.)
Took him all of five steps to get there. “Any signs we should be worried?”
Jayne looked over his shoulder. “Naw, not really. Credentials sent us clean through the last one.”
That had been yesterday. Had that been the day he’d found River in the infirmary, the day he fought Simon? Yes, it was the same day he’d had to explain to a disgruntled Jayne Cobb just why the girl was on board. He’d had brief snatches of shuteye since then but nothing you’d rightly call sleep. He reckoned the last time he’d slept – really slept – had been on that red sofa, back on Serenity, right at the start of all this. He breathed a deep breath. “We need anything else for this one?”
Jayne grunted. “Well, you got us a destination more exact than ‘the Core’? Seems to be that right there’s gonna flag us up as not quite on the level.”
Shook his head to get himself out of his haze. “Uh – yeah. Yeah. Simon said – Osiris. We’ll find this doctor on Osiris.”
Jayne cocked an eyebrow. “Osiris? Thought you said this fella was on Ariel.”
He closed his eyes, trying to focus on Jayne past his exhaustion. “I did. I did. That’s what that priestess on Sihnon told me. But Simon did some looking into it. Says we want to be headed to Osiris. Alliance postal code – I can’t quite remember.”
The merc furrowed his brow (or, seemed to him he did – all was looking a mite blurry). “Mal, you okay?”
He squeezed his eyes shut and took a couple breaths. “Yeah. Yeah. I just feel a little – think I’m just tired. Listen, can you handle this? I’m gonna go lie myself down for a few minutes.”
The gunhand looked a little skeptical, but he shrugged. “Sure thing, Mal. I’ll let you know if we run into anything sticky.”
And then he was stumbling out the door and toward his room. It was funny how sudden weariness could catch up with a body.
As he was pushing open the hatch to his bunk, he caught sight of the girl out of the corner of his eye. She cocked her head. “It’s just as well. You wouldn’t have liked what he has planned.”
Just made it into the room and to the bed before he collapsed. That was the last thing he knew for a long time.
Funny how, after all that rage he’d felt, after Miranda, it was like none of it ever happened. Like he’d imagined all them waves. Imagined all them looks and laughs and –
After the signal went out, the Operative had given them a tow to a repair yard on Persephone. They’d stayed there just over a month, the Operative doing his part – paying off the people he needed to, Mal expected – to keep them from being noticed.
He’d kept mostly to himself in those early days. Didn’t much want to face any of them, so he avoided those spaces where he might wind up seeing other folk: the bridge, the galley, the cargo hold. Didn’t want to face the disapproving looks. Didn’t want to face Zoe’s tearlessness. Didn’t want to face the emptiness of a ship without Wash.
Six days after they got to Persephone, they went together on one of the Operative’s shuttles to Haven: took the bodies of their friends and laid them to rest. Try as he might to find blame in their eyes, he couldn’t.
In the dust of Haven, Simon held Kaylee’s hand. He noticed.
Next day, he made his way toward the galley to grab some food to take back to his bunk, and he heard their girlish giggles through the door. “So, have you been with him, yet?” Inara’s voice (that teasing lilt in it).
The responding giggle was Kaylee’s. “Nooo. But he – ever since he told me, he keeps on lookin’ at me. You know, a sexy look.”
Took a step closer to the hatch and leaned against it, arms crossed, just watching them. They were sitting at the galley table, mugs of steaming liquid between them. Kaylee was in her coveralls, hair pulled back in a messy ponytail, a smudge of grease on her cheek. The other was sitting across from her, her long dark hair falling down around her face. Most times it wasn’t like that – most times she pulled some or all of it up and away, swept it into something that looked formal and prepared. With her hair down, though, she looked younger, softer – someone he might even be able to reach if only he tried.
Now, she let out a soft laugh, one eyebrow quirked upward. “Simon with a sexy look? I think, dearest Kaylee, that I can safely say I have never seen this look.”
He could see Kaylee’s head tilt, her face screw up. Timidly: “Really?”
The Companion smiled and reached across the table to take hold of her hands. “Really, mei mei.”
Kaylee heaved a sigh. “Well, every time he does it I turn into a regular mess – blubbering and the like – and have to run off. He must think I don’t have no sense at all!”
With a disapproving tilt of her head, her voice all soothing indulgence: “I’m sure he thinks nothing of the sort.”
“Oh, ‘Nara,” the mechanic pouted, drawing out her name. “I don’t know how you do it so easy.”
A ghost of a smile; her eyes big and brown and seeming genuine perplexed. “Do what, mei mei?”
And he reckoned if she didn’t know what it was she did, then that right there was most of the problem. Her, with all her training and skills, with all the men (and women) she’d practiced on, didn’t know how seamlessly it slipped into her every day. The seducing. She’d talked to Kaylee like she had no idea the doctor might feel something for her, like it would never even cross her mind. Maybe, he thought, maybe that was because it didn’t.
Kaylee, bless her little candid mouth, spelled it out for her, still in that little pouty voice. “You know – your seducin’. I just can’t manage to keep it together around him.” She grinned. “Always reckoned the good thing about having a bona fide Companion on board would be I could learn a thing or two about seducin’. Guess I forgot to pay attention.”
Inara shook her head (her hair bouncing a bit around her face); shook Kaylee’s hands in hers on the table. “But mei mei, you don’t need to seduce him. He cares for you. Perhaps he loves you. You don’t need to be anything but yourself, with your giggles and your grease smears.” A thumb to the mechanic’s cheek, then, swiping at that bit of black. And then a pause, and her eyes dropped, and her voice went soft. “Seduction is what a woman does when she can’t count on any of that. She creates a disguise.”
“I never much thought about Companionin’ like that before.”
“Like – sad.” Her face was quirked into a troubled little frown. “‘Nara?”
“Yes, mei mei?”
“You ever – you ever think about –” She stopped.
“We can’t all have what you have, mei mei. Some of us will be doomed to deal in disguises forever.” A beat. “Now go find that boy of yours immediately.”
He came to awareness just once, brief, before everything started to unravel later. His eyes fluttered open, and the only thing in his vision was a huge pair of brown eyes staring straight at his.
“His amygdala is functioning properly.”
But when he closed his eyes, everything went back to black.
Kaylee’d gone – rushed out of the galley lickity split, he reckoned to go (at the Companion’s prompting) find her doctor.
He stood for a few seconds outside the galley doorway, watching her, before heading in. She was still sitting there, eyes down on the table but not looking at it. Something a mite sad in her eyes.
“Shouldn’t be encouragin’ her.”
She started a bit in surprise; pulled her shawl tight around her shoulders as her head whipped around toward him. “What?”
He turned his back to her as he rummaged through whatever ersatz coffees they’d picked up of late (not really seeing the labels much though). When he answered her, he tried to sound casual. His voice came out harder than he meant. “Last thing I need’s a soap opera on my ship. Last thing Zoe needs.”
She eyed him. “Have you asked Zoe what she needs?”
Zoe’d been at the front of all of their minds, he reckoned. Or she should’ve been (should’ve been on Kaylee’s, too, instead of the boy). She’d been working herself ragged on Serenity – welding this, wiring that – and, when she wasn’t working, she was tucked away in the bunk she’d shared with Wash. She made her pleasantries in passing, but that was it.
Right then, it made him angry – her talking about Zoe, his Zoe, like he was doing something wrong by his first mate, like she somehow understood better. He turned around, slow, his body tense. “Don’t you talk like you belong here, Inara. You’re a visitor. That’s it. You left, and you’ll be leavin’ again soon as we get up and runnin’.” A beat, and he took a step forward. “Which means, by my lights, that if there’s a fallout from this thing – if that boy abandons her, like I expect he’ll do – I’m the one’s gotta clean up the mess. Not you. Me. So I’d appreciate it if you’d keep your opinions out of her ears.”
She frowned up at him from where she still sat at the table; spoke quietly. “I don’t know why you think so ill of him.”
And that should’ve come as no surprise, because she was always defending him, but it still smarted some. Because that was what she wanted to say? After he told her, in so many words, to leave, it was his opinion of the boy she wanted to speak on? His voice tinged with a sort of bitter sarcasm: “Aw, shucks, you know me. Them pretty, smart boys, them that dance well and kiss even better? They’re just not my type.”
She surprised him then by standing, sudden. Took a quick step toward him, her shoulders set, her dark eyes hard, focused right on him. She was angry. He was glad. Must’ve meant something, that she still bothered getting angry.
And what she said was: “That’s because no one is. No one’s ever good enough for the great Malcolm Reynolds. Everyone falls short in your book. Simon and Kaylee are tired, Mal. Tired of just existing. They want to live. So they try, but you blame them for the fact that they can’t live up to your oh-so-lofty expectations. You begrudge them for wanting to live, because you don’t.” A beat, and her eyes hadn’t wavered from his. “And Mal? That’s why you’ll always be alone.”
Felt like he’d been slapped. He watched her for a second. “Soon as we can leave, you’ll be off my ship.”
She tilted her head, the eyes that watched him still dark as the black. “You think Zoe’s like you, but she’s not. Zoe wanted to live, because she had someone that she loved.” And then she was gone.
When he woke up, his head was pounding. It took more than a couple seconds for him to piece together – coming in here, collapsing. He looked at the bedside clock in his room. Studied the time and date for a good minute.
One day. He’d been asleep a day.
He made it out of his bunk and to the little infirmary down that narrow hall in just a blink and thank God in heaven she was still there, lying on the table at that edge of the room, where he’d spent all the night before (or the night before that?) watching her.
She wasn’t alone.
River was lying alongside her, curled around her like a child against its mother, her dark hair splayed against the other’s pale arm. When he walked in, she opened her eyes but didn’t move; watched him as he moved into the room.
“River –” He reached a hand toward her, palm out, like to calm her. “You want to tell me what happened?”
She hadn’t moved, but it seemed like her muscles had tensed. “You went to sleep.”
A deep breath. “After that.”
The girl followed him with her eyes. When she spoke, her breath ruffled the Companion’s hair. “Jayne fell down and broke his crown....”
He swallowed. “Where is he? Where’s Jayne? Did you hurt Jayne?”
A slight shake of the head – almost unnoticeable. “Went to bed to mend his head with vinegar and brown paper.” Her voice intoned the rhyme in a sing-songy lilt.
Took another step toward her. “And where’s your brother?”
She closed her eyes, and when she spoke again her voice was a high. “He went to the other end of the wave.”
And he was off to the bridge, to check the Cortex’s communications log. As he left, she was mumbling a tuneless lullaby. “Hush, little baby, don’t say a word. Bábá’s gonna buy you a mockingbird....”
First time he saw them kiss was that afternoon. He was headed down to the infirmary so the doctor could check on his eye (the red in it from his fight with the Operative less than it had been but still visible), but he stopped on the stairs when he saw them.
They were standing in the living area outside the infirmary face to face, Kaylee’s eyes closed, her arms at her sides, her head tilted up to him. The boy’s hands were at her cheeks, his fingertips grazing over her forehead, her nose, her eyelids, her lips, like he wanted to memorize the contours. And he was looking down at her with reverence, like he’d never seen anything quite like her in the world.
He nearly tripped as he backed back up the stairs. They didn’t seem to hear him.
But he thought for some time after that about wanting to live, and whether she was right about him. Whether, somewhere along the line, he had forgotten what that meant.
On the Cortex screen at the back of the bridge, Simon’s face appeared (wearing those secret agent spectacles, not lost after all, it seemed). He looked anxious; ran a nervous hand through his hair while he waited for an answer on the other end of the wave.
It didn’t take long. The man that answered was middle-aged, with salt and pepper hair. His dress was Core, and fancy Core at that: a Sihnonese robe over a three-piece suit. But he didn’t seem near so composed as his dress suggested he should be. His eyes gleamed with something like desperation. “Simon – we’ve seen news of you, news of River. The media are suggesting you may have something to do with the broadwave that’s gone out. Where are you?”
The boy swallowed once, but that nervous look had left his face as soon as the man answered (replaced by calculating calm). He took a deep breath, and, when he spoke, his voice was strong, his words coming slow and deliberate. “You told me you wouldn’t come for me again. You told me I was on my own. Did you mean it?” (The last line not so much asked but spoken at the man.)
The man looked near-frantic. “Of course – of course I didn’t mean it. You’re my son, Simon. You’ll always be my son. Where are you?”
The doctor’s expression didn’t change. “I’m not ready to tell you that just yet. And don’t try tracing this wave. You won’t be able to. The location markers and contents are thoroughly encrypted.”
The man – Simon’s father – shook his head. “Simon. That’s not my intention.”
He nodded once, quick. “Its not being your intention doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Are you being watched by the Alliance?”
“I don’t believe you.”
The man pushed a hand through his hair. “They were – they were monitoring me, for a time. When you and River first disappeared. But since the broadwave –”
“I need to meet with you. Urgently. We should assume the Alliance is still watching you. I’ll give you a location, and I’ll come alone. I will not allow you to lead them to River.”
“Simon, you’re scaring me. What’s this about? Are you both all right?”
A short nod. “We’re fine.” He stopped, then, and was silent for so long it seemed like maybe he’d changed his mind, wasn’t going to say any more. But then his eyes shifted down and back up to meet the man’s.
“It’s about your daughter,” the boy said.
The man closed his eyes. “You just said River was fine.”
“She is.” What he said then wasn’t anything Mal would’ve ever expected. “It’s not River I’ve come about. It’s Inara.”
end chapter 15
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